The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (5)

Explaining How Existing Members and Churches were Driven Out of the PCUSA

Note: This is an unusually long post, but by necessity to explain this root cause of the PCUSA’s debacle.

It appears that a few years of surface quiet were experienced between 2002 and 2006.  However, behind the scenes the PCUSA national leadership must have been preparing for the coup that occurred at the 2006 General Assembly.  An informative report by David and Tim Bayly on this event follows.

Even more troubling to us is the approval of the so-called Peace, Unity, and Purity (PUP) Report, which, for the first time in our denomination’s history, allows local congregations and regional governing bodies to ordain as ministers, elders, and deacons people who refuse to accept or obey requirements for ordination established by the denomination’s constitution, if they convince the ordaining body that they can nonetheless serve. While this refusal to comply may apply to any requirement, the issue has been primarily focused on and driven by the question of ordaining practicing and unrepentant homosexual candidates…

A number of years ago our denomination’s constitution was amended to limit ordination to those who are faithful in marriage, which is between one man and one woman, or chaste in singleness. This wording was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time. At the time it was added it was not a new limitation, but made explicit an understanding that had historically been practiced within the denomination (and for that matter in nearly all Christian denominations).

What made the PUP Report unconscionable was that it amends the denominational constitution by an unconstitutional process. It by-passed the regional bodies whose approval is required by the constitution itself. It is as though the U. S. Constitution were to be amended by a simple majority vote of Congress, by-passing the states. Advocates of the ordination of ineligible people, unable to change the constitution, proposed to “interpret” it by altering the meaning of the phrase “shall not” so that it from now on it means “may.” A prohibition was changed by interpretation into permission, because the advocates of change could not muster the votes to pass an amendment.

Lest you assume that this is a biased report, here is a contemporaneous report on the same General Assembly by NBC News. 

Like other mainline Protestant groups, Presbyterians have been debating for decades how they should interpret Scripture on salvation, truth, sexuality and other issues.

But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage.

The “delegates” in this quote are those to the General Assembly.  Thus, it is the General Assembly, acting alone, that granted the “new leeway” to local congregations and Presbyteries.

The General Assembly continued down the path of democratic nullification in 2008, where numerous additional steps were taken.  This article lays out what occurred.

… the denomination then turned to the issue of standards for ordination. The language to be replaced requires that all ministers of the church must live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” That language, consistent with Scripture and Christian tradition, is to be replaced with a new standard that would require nothing at all with reference to sexual integrity.  The new wording would read:

“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation and establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

The proposed amendment to the standards now moves to the denomination’s 173 regional units (presbyteries) where it must receive sufficient support. Similar efforts have failed in the past, but many believe that this proposal will be difficult to defeat. The defection of many conservatives from the denomination (and some churches as well) may weaken the opposition.

Nevertheless, even without the change in the standard, local presbyteries may well move to ordain active homosexuals anyway. The Associated Press explains how:

“Of equal importance to advocates on both side of the debate, the assembly also voted to allow gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object to the existing standard. Local presbyteries and church councils that approve ordinations would consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

That vote was an “an authoritative interpretation” of the church constitution rather than a change to it, so it goes into effect immediately. The interpretation supersedes a ruling from the church’s high court, issued in February, that said there were no exceptions to the so-called “fidelity and chastity” requirement.”

The “standards for ordination” change would require further action by the next General Assembly to be fully accepted.  The “authoritative interpretation” did not requite Presbytery approval to go into effect.  Thus, “consent of the governed” had been in effect nullified.  That is, regardless of how the Presbyteries voted, the PCUSA had enabled ordination of practicing homosexuals.

By these General Assembly actions the PCUSA was flipped from a denomination that rejected demands to align theology and policy with contemporary sexual liberation ideology to one that had lost it’s will to resist.  This result was obtained by two distinct but related mechanisms, those being:

  1. by making it absolutely clear that the demanded policies would be implemented by illegitimate means, it encouraged those members and churches who formed the core of the resistance to leave the denomination
  2. those in opposition who still remained were so demoralized that many gave up and retreated into passivity.

Thus, between 2008 and 2011 the Progressive camp was able to achieve their demanded ends in a denomination that had effectively resisted them for decades.

As explicit standards on blocking homosexual ordination [are] starting to disappear, the General Assembly finally voted to approve of the ordination of … gays and lesbians on July 8, 2010 by a vote of 373 to 323. This new amendment was ratified on May 10, 2011. Approximately 19 presbyteries that voted against the issue in 2008-2009 switched to “yes” votes, including conservative areas, like northern Alabama. Some that resisted the issue in the past felt that gay/lesbian ordination was “inevitable” in any case. 

The approval of gay/lesbian ordination upset conservative members, with some leaving to join more conservative denominations, like the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, which formed less than year after the new amendment was ratified.

This is political nullification posing as a legitimate process.  Once this coup became successful it was virtually certain that Progressives would achieve dominance as orthodox members and churches fled what had become an overtly corrupt denomination.

Note in the following figure that it is after 2006 that the number of members and churches exiting the denomination began to significantly increase.  Were our leadership not corrupt (or utterly incompetent, a perhaps more charitable but unlikely explanation) they would have easily recognized that the denomination was nearing a debacle between 2006 and 2011.

However, they likely viewed this situation as positive since it guaranteed eventual Progressive political dominance.  What we know for certain is that they used the diminishing presence of orthodox Christians to obtain approval of gay ordination in 2010, thus driving the denomination from danger into outright debacle.

Debacle-Data-Print

Stages of the Debacle:  In the General Decline period membership loss was increasing but few if any churches were dismissed.  In the Danger Warning period membership continued to decrease but now churches were being dismissed at a much higher rate.  In the Debacle period both membership and dismissed churches went off a cliff and remained at unprecedented levels.

The current Progressive leadership doesn’t want us to know about these dirty dealings.  While they may avoid accountability they shouldn’t be allowed to avoid the shame of their conduct.

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (4)

Blog Photo- Church Attendance

For at least twenty-one consecutive years fewer people joined the PCUSA than in the previous year.  Not a single church has joined the PCUSA since 2010.  And yet our leadership prattles on about “improvement” and “welcoming” and “inclusion.”  Can this be explained? 

Explaining Fewer New Members Each Year for at Least 21 Consecutive Years

Our current leadership openly admits that the reasons for the PCUSA’s devastating decline.

The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by … the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

Why haven’t gays and other Progressives flocked into the PCUSA? 

To begin, Progressives (or also called Liberals) are generally less religious than are Conservatives or Moderates.  The Pew Research Center has generated relevant data in support of this statement, as shown in the following figure.

Screen Shot 2019-01-13 at 7.54.28 AM

Note that as we move from Conservative through Moderate to Liberal political ideology the percentage who “Believe in God, absolutely certain” falls from 78% to 59% and 45%, respectively.  Note also that the group who “Don’t know” their political ideology are more religious (at 65% absolutely certain) than are Liberals and Moderates.

Thus effect is magnified by the fact that while Liberals are shown by Pew to comprise only 24% of the U.S. population, Conservatives, Moderates and Don’t Knows are 36%, 33% and 7% respectively.  Thus, Conservatives, Moderates and Don’t Knows outnumber Liberals by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 (i.e., 76% to 24%).  If we use the “Believe in God, absotely certain” as the group most likely to join a church and then scale this data for each ideology by their percentage of the population we find that the Conservative plus Moderate plus Don’t Know population pool is 4.8 times larger than is the Liberal pool.

Thus, the PCUSA has chosen to tailor its theology and policies to the preferences of a very small cohort in the U.S. population.  The technical name for this strategy is “boutique,” or an organization that is by design small and fashionable.  This is a strange strategy for a denomination that claims to be pursuing maximum inclusiveness.

But, since the PCUSA has become so “inviting” to “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people” why haven’t they flocked into the denomination?  While it may be true that this group will find a denomination like the PCUSA more inviting, it is also very likely they understand that Christianity as practiced by the vast majority in the U.S. and the world doesn’t affirm their lifestyle.

The following figure shows that only a tiny fraction of Christians in the United States belong to a denomination that allows same-gender marriage.  Thus, the fact that a few small and quickly declining denominations have been taken over by radical Progressives does little to offset the position of the vast majority of Christians.  Were the same analysis conducted on a worldwide basis the results would be even more lopsided.

Gay-Marriage-US-Denom

All U.S. denomination membership (left) compared to membership of denominations that support gay marriage (right).  Also note that membership of the denominations allowing gay marriage are declining relative to many of those which don’t.

Of course, were the PCUSA in the right on these issues then they should be pursued regardless of the impact on membership.  However, my research and analysis has shown that the PCUSA leadership has utterly failed to meet even the lowest standard of Biblical and Confessional justification.

Thus we have a leadership that has driven the denomination into a debacle in pursuit of a losing strategy that has no credible justification within the context of Christianity.  This situation constitutes one key ingredient of a debacle — the failure to draw in new members.

Making Sense of Progressive Nonsense (7)

San-Fran-general-poop-map-FINAL

Map of reported incidents of human feces on the streets of San Francisco

I Can’t Handle the Truth Edition

It turns out that Progressive policies don’t just create hell-holes in far away countries like Venezuela. Here in the good ole United States there are cities and whole states that have been so dominated by radical Progressivism that they too are becoming at least Purgatory-ish for their inhabitants.  For example, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle the homeless population has both skyrocketed and metastasized to the point of unbearability  for the general population.  In Chicago the city’s failure to control gang violence and deliver minimal education in their public schools is an unending scandal.

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But this has nothing to do with our Progressive policies!

It’s gotten so bad that even some Progressive activists have noticed.  However, this realization creates dangerous cognitive dissonance.  For a Progressive activist doesn’t just believe that their policy prescriptions are undeniably the best, but also that they possess ultimate intellectual and moral superiority.  Therefore to even approach the possibility that their policies, let alone themselves, might be faulty is unthinkable.

So how to square this circle?  One noteworthy recent attempt was made by Farhad Manjooopinion pieceAmerica’s Cities Are Unlivable. Blame Wealthy Liberals.”  Mr. Manjoo gets off to a good start in his first three paragraphs.

To live in California at this time is to experience every day the cryptic phrase that George W. Bush once used to describe the invasion of Iraq: “Catastrophic success.” The economy here is booming, but no one feels especially good about it. When the cost of living is taken into account, billionaire-brimming California ranks as the most poverty-stricken state, with a fifth of the population struggling to get by. Since 2010, migration out of California has surged.

The basic problem is the steady collapse of livability. Across my home state, traffic and transportation is a developing-world nightmare. Child care and education seem impossible for all but the wealthiest. The problems of affordable housing and homelessness have surpassed all superlatives — what was a crisis is now an emergency that feels like a dystopian showcase of American inequality.

Just look at San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s city. One of every 11,600 residents is a billionaire, and the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home now tops $320,000. Yet the streets there are a plague of garbage and needles and feces, and every morning brings fresh horror stories from a “Black Mirror” hellscape …

However, from these initial sweeping (and damning) observations the article’s scope suddenly narrows to a commentary on affordable housing.  The issues of public defecation and drug use, crime and disease simply evaporate.  Yes, Mr. Manjoo continues to stick it to the wealthy Progressive left, but the focus has shifted to complaining that they aren’t sufficiently living up to their stated beliefs on urban planning.

It was another chapter in a dismal saga of Nimbyist urban mismanagement that is crushing American cities. Not-in-my-backyardism is a bipartisan sentiment, but because the largest American cities are populated and run by Democrats — many in states under complete Democratic control — this sort of nakedly exclusionary urban restrictionism is a particular shame of the left.

By the article’s end a reader is left with the impression that if these unlivable cities would just modify their zoning laws the problems would be mostly solved.

Reading opposition to SB 50 and other efforts at increasing density, I’m struck by an unsettling thought: What Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving “local character,” maintaining “local control,” keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out.

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Progressive logic: (1) the homeless are victims; (2) victims are all blameless; (3) white middle-class women are oppressors; (4) a victim raped an oppressor; (5) it’s therefore oppression to complain about being raped! Q.E.D.

By this sleight of mind Mr. Manjoo is able to acknowledge that which he sees without ever considering the implications for his Progressive ideology and his presumed personal superiority.  This purposeful myopia is a necessary consequence of Progressivism’s intentions-based reasoning and self-righteousness.  For, to even acknowledge the possibility of failure in policy or reasoning is to place in doubt their self-image of unquestionable superiority.  For Mr. Manjoo and many other Progressive activists this is the black hole whose event horizon cannot be ever crossed.  To do so would cause their entire identity to be obliterated.  Better to let the people in our cities suffer than for a Progressive activist to experience that worst of all fates — admitting that they aren’t perfect.

Narcissist-Self-love

My self-image of superiority is far more valuable than the health, well-being or very lives of those who live under my Progressive policies!

The Disappearing PCUSA: 2018 Data (3)

Selected Updated Charts

Although I have in previous years published a large number of charts, this year I will be more selective.  The goal is to prevent data overload while supporting my primary message from the previous two posts. Recall that the PCUSA has been in existence since 1983, so this is the farthest back in time that data can go.

While total membership change is useful, percentage change is a more accurate metric.  This is true because as a group shrinks in membership the same absolute loss becomes a higher percentage loss.  For example, a loss of 10 from a group of 100 is 10%.  But that same loss of 10 from a group of 50 is 20%.  Since the PCUSA is a quickly shrinking denomination we need to account for this effect by calculating annual membership loss as a percentage of the previous year’s total membership.  This metric is shown in the following figure.

PCUSA-Percent-Mbr-2018

Note that in 2011 this metric fell below the 3% annual loss level and hasn’t yet recovered.  In fact, for the past seven consecutive years percentage membership loss has been well below 4%.  So, the fact that in 2018 there was a small improvement doesn’t support the conclusion that things are getting better.  Quite the opposite, as we remain in a state of historically unprecedented membership loss.

I have come to call the following figure a “fingerprint” because it combines both key metrics (i.e., membership loss and dismissed churches) of the debacle.  Note that this is a dual axis plot.  Membership change is plotted by a solid red line with associated axis on the left.  Dismissed churches is plotted by a dashed blue line with associated axis on the right. 

Membership-Churches-2018

Note that net annual membership loss has been below 60,000 since 2008.  Although the number of dismissed churches is falling, this is because most of the churches that wish to exit have already done so.  Also, for any year prior to 2012 a total of 35 dismissed churches would have been considered a catastrophe.  Thus the 2018 “improvement” in dismissed churches cannot plausibly be credited to a healing denomination.

The following plot shows the four components of church gain/loss discussed in a previous post.

Church-2018

The dashed black curve shows the annual net change in PCUSA churches (by combining the four components).  Note that prior to 2011 net loss was less than 100 (and less than 50 prior to 2006).  Since 2011 the annual net church loss has always been greater than 120.  Note also that:

  • The number of dissolved churches has been increasing each year since 2016;
  • No church has joined the PCUSA from outside the denomination (i.e., received) since 2010;
  • Less than 25 new churches (i.e., organized) have been added each year between 2009 and 2018.

Previous charts focused on net membership, which obviously is the difference between membership gain and loss.  While net information is informative and useful, the detail provided by annual membership gain and loss enables additional insight.

Therefore the following figure shows membership gain and loss data so that these constituent elements of net change (also plotted) can be observed.  This data is plotted over the past twenty-one years.

Mbr-Gain-Loss-2018

This data results in a couple of rather shocking observations:

  1. The number of members gained has fallen for each consecutive year since at least 1998.
  2. The number of members lost has increased and decreased with a maximum of 184,000 in the year 2000 and a minimum of 109,000 in 2018 and a twenty-one year average of 163,000.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the primary reason for net membership loss over the past twenty-one years is falling membership gains as opposed to rising membership losses.  For example, 2012 was not the worst net loss year ever because of unprecedented loss, but rather because loss returned to the 1998 – 2004 level while gains had fallen by almost 51% from the 1998 value.  Comparing 1998 and 2018 membership gains shows over a 70% reduction.

One can hardly imagine a result more damning of the PCUSA leadership.  For, it is over this period that they proclaimed their motivation for radical theological and organizational change to be increased inclusion for a changing population.  Thus, while this gut-wrenching change was being foisted upon an unwilling rank and file, the exact opposite of their stated goal was occurring.

The above data clearly contradicts the “happy talk” used by our denominational leadership.  The fact that things appear to be getting “better” is only because the denomination is exiting an unprecedented period of debacle.

However, we are not approaching health.  Rather we are entering a new period of general decline that is far worse than the previous period of general decline.  So, our denominational leadership continues its gaslighting (“What debacle, can’t you see that things are just getting better and better?”) of the membership. Would any self-respecting organization accept this performance by its leadership?  It’s far past time that we demanded accountability for the debacle that our leadership has created.



Perhaps some readers are unconvinced that the preceding PCUSA data indicates that a debacle has indeed occurred.  One final data set should settle this issue.  In 2015 the Pew Research Center published data on America’s Changing Religious Landscape.  This data covered the change in United States membership of Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline and All Christians between 2007 and 2014.  This time span includes the first three of the PCUSA’s six-year debacle period.  The following figure shows the Pew membership change data along with the PCUSA change over the same time span.

Denom-Change

Note that the PCUSA’s percentage membership decline is twice the rate of Mainline churches, four-times the rate of the Catholic church and eight-times the rate of all Christian churches in the United States.  Evangelical church membership increased by 4%, thus falsifying the canard that all denominations are experiencing membership decline.  These results would have been worse were the time span 2010 through 2017, as all the massive PCUSA losses would then be included.

I rest my case.